Smith backs rights' call by Meacher

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John Smith, the favourite in Labour's leadership contest, yesterday endorsed a call from Michael Meacher for Labour to maximise individual rights and decentralise power.

Mr Meacher is the only Shadow Cabinet member publicly to back Bryan Gould's bid for the leadership.

At a press conference to launch Mr Meacher's book Diffusing Power, Mr Smith distanced himself from some of the mechanisms Mr Meacher proposes - but argued that Labour needs to get away from Morrisonian nationalisation to an approach more based on individual rights than statist socialism.

Mr Meacher argues that Labour must accept the shift from big-scale industry and monolithic public services, to today's more flexible and specialised production of goods and services in a society where assertion of individual rights plays a bigger part than communal values.

Mr Smith's willingness to chair the press conference was seen by some as bridge-building towards the end of the leadership contest, the shadow Chancellor saying that the contest had been marked by lack of personal acrimony. That reflected the fact that the contestants 'had been close colleagues before the election and will be close colleagues afterwards'.

He hoped that the debate about Labour's future policy could start, 'perhaps in a more organised form', once the leadership was settled. Mr Smith's Commission on Social Justice aimed at producing a new tax and benefits deal, will form part of that with possible involvement from Liberal Democrats and others.

Diffusing Power; available from Pluto Press; pounds 10.95.